The World of Today
It seems that the Kings and Kingdoms of this world are in an unending cycle of conflict and search for political power: wars between Russia and Ukraine, Palestine and Israel; the violent spread of ISIS across Iraq and Syria, and Boko Haram in Nigeria; the ruthless regimes of North Korea and Zimbabwe; the never ending struggles in Congo, Darfur, Pakistan and Burma; the posturing of world leaders, Barack Obama, Angela Merkle, Vladamir Putin and David Cameron – one wonders if there is anyone in control and if it will ever end?
This is the world we live in and if that’s not bad enough God’s people face the daily oppression and persecution of living in these kingdoms and under these kings – many to the point of torture and death. It’s easy to get disillusioned and discouraged, and come to the conclusion that God is absent from it all.
The World of Daniel
Well that was life for Daniel, his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah and the many thousands of God’s people, who were brutally defeated by King Nebuchadnezzar and transported off to the Kingdom of Babylon (603-586 BC. You can read the story of these events in 2 Kings 25v1-21). Here they were expected to do things the ‘Babylonian’ way, deny God and worship the god’s. The song recorded for us in Psalm 137 ‘By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept..’ helps us understand the struggle and the suffering God’s people went through during these years. They longed for God to intervene, take them back and defeat their enemy. But rather than lift them out God calls them to live faithful lives in this unfaithful world. To ‘build houses and settle down…Marry and have sons and daughters…Also seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile…For I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’ Jeremiah 29v4-11. In summary they were to be his witnesses.
The God of Daniel
As they made their way to a foreign land the question is; Has God lost control? The answer from the book of Daniel is this: In a world where Kingdoms clash and King’s oppress God’s people, God proves himself to be ‘The’ supreme king who rules over the Kings and Kingdoms of this world and is sovereignly building his Kingdom which will last for all eternity. Those who trust in the one true King will live forever in His eternal Kingdom.
That’s how the book of Daniel starts and ends. In 1v2 we are reminded that: ‘The Lord delivered Jehoiakim King of Judah into his (King Nebuchadnezzar’s) hand…’ From the very outset we must learn that even when God’s people are under the rule of a godless king, God is not absent but controlling and ordering the events of history for his good purpose. In 12v13, the very last verse, Daniel is told: ‘As for you go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.’ God may not take us out of the situation we find ourselves in, but he will be with us through it, working out his good plan and guaranteeing our safe arrival into his eternal kingdom.
Of course that was a lesson they would learn under seventy years of captivity and it’s the same message we need to learn and trust today. Daniels God is our God and we are called to live as faithful people in an unfaithful world, in the knowledge that he is the Ruling King with an Eternal Kingdom.
The story of God in our World
Kings will come and Kingdoms will go but they will never supersede the Kingdom of God. We see this worked out in Stories (Chapters 1-6) and Visions (Chapters 7-12)
Stories: Ruling the Kings and Kingdoms of this age
Chapters 1-6 primarily tell the story of Daniel and his friends under the foreign rule of Nebuchadnezzar ch1-4, Belshazzar ch5, (Babylonian Empire) and Darius ch 6 (Persian Empire). Here they each face the challenge of living faithful lives under an unfaithful King. Through their faithful witness God shows Nebuchadnezzar that he is the supreme and sovereign King who rules over every Kingdom rising up and tearing down as he wills (2v47, 3v28, 4v17, 34-35). The only right response is to humble ourselves before God and honour him (4v34). To refuse and reject God’s rule will only bring disaster as Belshazzar came to learn, ironically, at a party to celebrate his powerful empire (5v30). Darius maybe a new King of a different Kingdom (6v1) but he too must learn that ; ‘(God) is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and saves…’ (6v26-27)
Through their lives Daniel and his friends face the fiery furnace and the den of lions but God remains faithful and equips his people to stand strong in the face of great opposition and persecution.
Visions: Revealing his King and Kingdom to come
Chapters 7-12 primarily give us a vision of the future. Through vivid descriptions of beats, dramatic announcements from angels and curious numbers we get to see what is going on in the world right now and more importantly what is going on behind the scenes.The four beasts of chapter 7, representing the rise of empires, are scary and terrifying but they are soon silenced as the Ancient of Days slays and destroys the beast and reveals his true King the Son of Man (7v13-14 c.f. Mark 10v45). The beasts are replaced by Rams and Goats in chapter 8 representing leaders who clash with each other but also seek to destroy God’s people (8v23-25). Thankfully in chapter 9 the beastly creatures disappear but they are replaced by the curious ‘seven sevens’ and ‘sixty two sevens’! But this is not a maths test! God is revealing that while kings and kingdoms ‘strut their stuff’ he has set a time (symbolised by numbers) when he will forgive and restore those who turn to him (9v25-26). When our minds are completely fried with visions we are invited to with Daniel to look once more (10-12). It’s both terrifying and comforting as God pulls back the curtain of history: ‘Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.’ (10v14) The vision helps us to see that behind these earthy kings and kingdoms there is a greater battle between the god of this world and the Supreme and Sovereign God. The message is difficult, things will get worse before they get better, rather than expect safety we should prepare to suffer (Ch 11). As the Kingdom of God is established the battle will intensify. But victory is assured for God’s people: ‘There will be a time of distress…but at that time your people – everyone whose name is found in the book – will be delivered.’ (12v1). Knowing what is to come and being assured of God’s victory will enable us to live faithful lives in an unfaithful world.
Kings will come and Kingdoms will go but they will never supersede God’s ruling King the Lord Jesus Christ and his eternal Kingdom. We will witness the rise of rulers and political powers, we will experience opposition and persecution but God’s plans and purpose remain on track and one day the true ruling power the Risen Lord Jesus will come again and take his people to be with him forever.